View from the saddle: the Haute Route Pyrenees 2016
BY: YANNICK DRANGOWSKI
STAGE ONE SATURDAY 20TH AUGUST
ANGLET BASQUE COAST – LA PIERRE SAINT-MARTIN 143KM
A very hard first stage, more or less a remake of 2015, with the traverse of the Basque country, its rolling hills and innumerable leg-breaking walls. A long progression of short steep climbs and equally short steep descents for over 75km before the first proper climb of the week, the col d’Ahusquy. It was the last climb on stage 6 in 2014 and remains engraved in the memories of all who rode it. With its narrow road, steep slopes and wild countryside, it is a great introduction before the big one of the day, La Pierre St Martin. This is a long climb, well-known for the constant battle with the ever-changing slope, up to 12% in places. The talk in the peloton in 2015 was about a “killer stage”. We have been warned…
Tips: Start slowly and take it easy. The week is long and this stage will take its toll.
STAGE TWO SUNDAY 21ST AUGUST
PAU – ARGELÈS-GAZOST 146KM
Second helpings, we are served again with a very similar menu to Stage 2 in 2015. Beware the 50km leading to the first climb, the road is like the previous day’s, insidiously draining your energy. You could be forgiven for thinking that the organisers’ only goal is to maintain their reputation for the “highest and toughest cyclosportives in the world”… The col de Marie Blanque needs little introduction, with its famous 4km wall at 12%, then the descent brings us to the majestic col d’Aubisque. Much more regular, if the weather is good this iconic climb is a real pleasure. A short descent leads almost imperceptibly to the col du Soulor, a mere formality from this side. From there, look out, it is a vertiginous descent to Ferrière and immediately on to the climb to the col de Spandelle. A little-known climb, it has never been used by the Tour de France, undoubtedly because the road is narrow and in poor condition. Hold on tight, the slope averages 8.4% for 10km, with ramps hitting 12-13%, once again! In 2012 over 30 riders abandoned here during the Route du Sud, including Thomas Voeckler… The timing will almost certainly stop on the col: the descent to Argelès-Gazost is in bad condition and very dangerous.
Tips: Be prudent in the first few kilometres. Stay in a group and conserve energy for the big climbs.
STAGE THREE MONDAY 22ND AUGUST
ARGELÈS-GAZOST – COL DE COURADUQUE 16KM
It is unusual to plan the time trial for the third day, but this makes sense when you look at the programme for the rest of the week. Considering that the final stage to Toulouse is relatively easy, it is well placed to help recovery between the tough first two stages and the next three.
A nice innovation, rarely climbed by visiting cyclists, the col de Couraduque is not without interest. The climb begins in Argelès-Gazost and initially follows the road to the col du Soulor. At the mid-point we will fork right to take the road leading to the cross-country ski station of Couraduque. The first part is seriously steep, on a wide road in good condition. It would not be a good idea to get lulled into feeling strong here. Take advantage of the short false flat to recover before the final 6.5km, at a fairly regular 7% but with a few short respites. If your objective is to record a good time, you should plan to give your all on this second part of the climb.
Tips: Considering what is to come in the next 3 days, it might be a good idea to prolong the outing and add an hour or so of active recovery on the flat at the bottom of the valley!!!
STAGE FOUR TUESDAY 23RD AUGUST
ARGELÈS-GAZOST – PLA D’ADET 97KM
A Pyrenean stage just as we like them, 100km, 3 cols, a real pleasure. Not much flat on the programme for the day. Beginning with the col du Tourmalet, it’s long, it’s hard, with barely 10km to warm up before attacking the start ramps of this legendary climb. The right to cross the Tourmalet has to be earned, with between 1h10 and 2h30 of hard work, depending on your level. After the descent, not a metre of flat before starting up the slopes to the Hourquette d’Ancizan. It shares the road with the col d’Aspin until Payolle, when the real climb begins, in the opposite direction to 2014. It is a wild climb, in the forest, on a narrow road, and it is not unusual to have to slalom between livestock while fighting with the slope. A short descent near the top, but it isn’t finished yet, there is still 2.5km to climb around a majestic bowl with fantastic views across the valley. Beware the descent, once again on a narrow road, not always in the best condition. Some of the bends tighten dangerously and this can quickly become an ordeal if you are flagging by this point. Time for a rest, a few kilometres of flat before attacking the final obstacle of the day, the Pla d’Adet. Those who did the time trial in 2015 will remember: even though the first few kilometres are close to 9% on average, it is not an extremely tough climb. It’s having to do it at the end of the stage that will make this climb a challenge.
Tips: Hold on tight for a rollercoaster ride. A hard day before an even harder one: eat, drink, eat, drink and eat again!!!
STAGE FIVE WEDNESDAY 24TH AUGUST
SAINT-LARY SOULAN – CAP DE LONG 100KM
We are in a good place in Saint-Lary, so we stay here. The fifth day is a helluva stage, with no less than four climbs in 100km, the organisers are having a good laugh. The geographical configuration makes it possible, so let’s do it! The Hourquette d’Ancizan from the other direction is fairly regular for the first climb of the day. “Oh but is it steep!” Yes, yes, but never mind, just get on with it! The col d’Aspin, next one up, just 6km at 7%, easy, it’s in the bag. A long descent followed by a long false flat, this feels good, hey we can spin our legs, we almost forgot how to do this! 18km of false flat brings us to the foot of the col d’Azet. From here on, things get more complicated. We’ll talk about the flat again tomorrow, for today it is finished… The col d’Azet may be short, but is it hard, the first kilometres at an average of 10%. Even if it eases off a bit near the summit, one might have said that with all the kilometres accumulated to date a summit arrival could have been a good idea. But no, on we go, after a dangerous descent we are back in Saint Lary, and there we head off into the unknown, the climb to the Cap de Long. 23km of climbing, 1300m vertical, it is going to hurt! The first 7km are not too steep, but long, and it is hard to see progress. After 10km we turn off the road to Spain, and bam, the climb reaches another dimension. It will make an impression, that’s for sure. The scenery is magnificent, the slope is steep, but just look how beautiful it is… The climax arrives with the view on the lake, end of the ordeal, the mountain is raw, broken, rough, savage. A must-do of the Pyrenees and an excellent idea to include it.
Tips: This is a real 5***** stage. The keys to a good ride are to manage your effort and your energy levels and to eat and drink appropriately.
STAGE SIX THURSDAY 25TH AUGUST
SAINT-LARY SOULAN – PEYRAGUDES 131KM
Just like in 2015, the hostilities start immediately, with the col d’Azet in the opposite direction to the previous day. It’s a tough way to start a long stage, but you need to try to hang on to a few other cyclists because next up is 70km of valley floor to get around the base of the mountains to the foot of the Port de Balès. It would be smart not to do this alone… This is the tough side of the Port de Balès, 19km to climb, with sections at 11%. The beginning is fairly straightforward, but once the steep section starts, there is no let-up until the summit. This is a fantastic climb for its wild beauty, a bit less perhaps for those that don’t enjoy the steeper climbs… Once again there is no transition between the descent and the next climb. We pass literally from one to the other, and not the least! The climb to the col de Peyresourde from this side begins with endless straight lines at 9% or even 10%. It is a relief at last to reach the hairpins in the final few kilometres where the changing gradient helps keep things going. It is not over yet, we tip over the col, and because the organisers are enjoying themselves, they are going to make us climb up to the ski-station of Peyragudes. Of course we will do this by the hardest route, otherwise it wouldn’t be amusing… What’s left is quite short, only 4km, but a terrible wall is going to slow down the toughest and cause a lot of grief to the others. Your motivation is that once over the top you are practically certain to finish the Haute Route…
Tips: Don’t get left alone on the summit of the col d’Azet: it is crucial to be in a group for the valley.
STAGE SEVEN FRIDAY 26TH AUGUST
PEYRAGUDES – TOULOUSE 169KM
Hope for fine weather at the start, because the stage begins with a 15km descent from 1620m. It could be pretty cold! There are no real difficulties on this stage, except the distance. The col de Menté is “only” 9km to climb on a nice wide road, with a gradient that is for once quite steady, although steep at nearly 10%. Once over the col there are 120km to go to Toulouse, initially a steep descent then a false flat and finally an undulating route through the countryside. The leaders will ride this very fast in order to defend their positions, while all others are best advised to get in a group and enjoy the final day!
Tips: Find a group at your level and enjoy the final few kilometres of the Haute Route 2016!
One might think that this new edition is very similar to the previous ones, but a closer inspection reveals a real effort to innovate and propose an original event. The challenge announced on paper seems to live up to the reputation the organisation wants to maintain: the “highest and toughest cyclosportives in the world”.
PREPARING FOR THE HAUTE ROUTE
Update: Alpine Cols was the official partner to the Haute Route for coaching and training for the 4 year period 2014 – 2017. We offer individual coaching as well as coaching camps (in small groups) both intended to help you perform at your best and enjoy the experience. Between them, our coaches have ridden well over 25 Haute Routes, as well as innumerable other mountain sportives, and they will be delighted to share their experience with you.